Popularity & Diversity in Juvenile Fiction: A Mini Case Study

Inspired by Travis Jonker’s series of posts about the highest circulating books at his school library (chapter books, picture books, nonfiction books, diverse books), here’s a list of the highest circulating juvenile fiction at my small public library branch this fiscal year. It’s a lot of the same, but it’s interesting to see a few differences.

#10a. The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein

TIE. Hooray! Off to a good start!

libris

#10b. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (Kane Chronicles #1)

TIE. Also cool. The only surprising thing is that this isn’t Magnus Chase.

red pyrmaid

#9. Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #8)

As Jonker said in his post, earlier installments are usually followed by later ones…

hard luck

#8. The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney (Diary of Wimpy Kid #3)

Wait. What the heck is this one doing here? This isn’t new at all!

last straw

#7. The Sasquatch Escape by Suzanne Selfors (Imaginary Veterinary #1)

You might think this is an outlier but it was also an OBOB book. That’s a big deal here in Oregon.

sasquatch

#6. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Heroes of Olympus #3)

And back to Riordan. But still no Magnus Chase? Or Apollo? What gives?

mark of athena

#5. Big Nate Lives It Up by Lincoln Piece (Big Nate #7)

Ah, Big Nate. I was hoping he would turn up! The comics are popular, too.

big nate

#4. I Funny: A Middle School Story by James Patterson (I Funny #1)

All of Patterson’s books circulate well. For all ages. What’s his secret?

funny

#3. Into the Wild by Erin Hunter (Warriors #1)

I love cats so much but I just can’t get into these books. But our patrons love ’em!

into the wild

#2. The 26-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illus. Terry Denton (Treehouse Books #2)

Not the most recent, but the series remains strong in general. It’s been on my TBR pile for ages.

26-story

#1. The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #9)

Ah, yes. The only thing surprising about this is that it’s not the newest one. Where are Old School and Double Down?

long haul


Analysis: The most noticeable difference is probably that a lot of these are earlier series entries rather than newer ones. I think this is because (a) we are one branch of a three-branch city library, (b) since we’re a small branch, we often only carry one copy of a title, and (c) there are multiple copies of newer titles, and most of those multiple copies live elsewhere.

While I’m trying not to judge our young readers—heck, I love some of these books, too—I’ll have to admit that my heart is a bit broken. Where are the books written by or about people of color? Where are the books written by or about other marginalized groups? The only book with non-white lead to make the list is The Red Pyrmaid. And it’s written by a white guy! After these top 11, the next book with a non-white lead is Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. After that: Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

I could go on with other titles and other identities (maybe even in another post) but I hasten to guess I’d find fewer books than I could count on both hands. In fact, this 11 title “case study” is a pretty good indication of the titles you’d see on the full list of books with higher than average circulation at my branch—though it’s notably missing a good deal of Magic Treehouse and Rainbow Magic. The diverse books rank lower on the list, and often end up on my weeding reports because they don’t circulate.

It disappoints me that these books, despite our best intentions as librarians, don’t quite reach the same level of popularity they deserve. I feel this way about some award-winners, too—especially the award-winners that are also diverse. The books we want kids to read aren’t always the ones they are reading. And that’s okay. To a point. But, when you take into consideration the pervasive whiteness of American children’s literature and the shifting demographics of our nation, it’s really not okay that children aren’t reading diversely.

So, what should I do? What do you do? To me, low circulation doesn’t mean that diverse books aren’t important, or that we should weed them or choose to not buy them because they aren’t as popular. Quite the contrary. Books save lives. They change lives. Popularity isn’t as important as readers finding the books they need. For those other readers—the ones who don’t realize the windows and mirrors they are missing out on—I just have to find a way to sneak diverse books in their hands, perhaps alongside these other books.

I’ll keep trying.

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